Mstera embroidery

Tuesday 14 June: Day 5 of the 2011 Russia trip

Having stayed overnight in Shuya, we drove to the small town of Mstera, famous for both embroidery and lacquer painting. We visited a small factory where we saw embroiderers working, mostly by machine, but one was creating by hand an exquisite panel, depicting St George fighting the dragon. We were told that a priest comes to bless the design before the embroiderer starts work on a piece with a religious subject like this.  The work is so skilful that the embroidery appears the same on both sides.

Thirty-six people are employed here now.  The machine embroiderers create blouses, dresses, bed-linen, tablecloths and mats in natural coloured linen, decorated in a style of red satin-stitch embroidery which is known as Vladimir stitch, after the region. There is a good selection for sale in the small shop attached to the factory.

At the end of the 19th century there was an embroidery workshop here – the work being done by nuns.  After the Revolution the workshop was renamed (after Lenin’s wife) the N K Krupskaya Embroidery Factory. Throughout the Soviet period the Vladimir style of embroidery was very popular.  The Mstera museum has many impressive pieces from this time, notably large hangings designed and worked by their most famous artist, Tatiana Dmitrieva-Shul’pina, who came from a family of embroiderers and icon-painters.

A distinctive style of white on white embroidery is named after Mstera itself. This is done in a fine white satin stitch, often on a transparent background fabric. Small and delicate floral designs are typical. In the past both Vladimir and Mstera machine embroideries often included the usual Soviet symbols of abundance and progress in agriculture and industry, such as sheaves of wheat, tractors, aeroplanes and spaceships. One piece of Mstera work in the museum shows a peasant woman spinning with only a burning taper to see by, in contrast to her fortunate Soviet descendents being helped in their embroidery work by that wonder of modern technology, the electric light-bulb.


Embroidered hanging depicting figures representing each of the Soviet Republics, designed by Tatiana Dmitrieva-Shul’pina (1913-1999). Mstera museum


Mstera machine embroidery – spinning by the light of a taper. Mstera museum


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